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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 4

 

 

Verses 1-49

MOSES INSISTS ON OBEDIENCE

(vs.1-14)

Because God had already blessed Israel and intended to bless them more greatly still. Moses urges them to "listen to the statutes and judgments" he is teaching them, for these are their very life and the basis for their possessing the land God had given them (v.1). How vitally true this is for us today also. It is the Word of God by which we live (Matthew 4:4), and it is that Word by which we enter into the blessings "in heavenly places" that are given us "in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:3).

Well may we therefore take to heart the warning of verse 2, "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it." This is found in a book of history (Deuteronomy). A similar warning is given in Scripture poetry, "Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6), and another such warning in the prophecy of Scripture, "If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone take away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:11-19).

Moses reminds Israel also of the corruption that led to judgment at Baal-Peor (Numbers 25:1-9). This sinful association was a violation of the Word of God, and the Lord God destroyed those Israelites who mixed with the women of Moab (v.3). Compromise with the enemy will ruin a testimony for God. "But you," Moses says, "who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today" (v.4). This is an encouragement. Moses tells them he has taught them statutes and judgments just as the Lord had commanded him. This brings to mind Paul's address to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:1-38, where he tells them, "I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (v.27). This was in his last message to them.

To obey the Word of God would be Israel's wisdom and their understanding in the sight of other peoples who would hear of these statutes (v.5). When they would see the effect God's Word had on Israel, others would recognize that Israel was a wise and understanding nation. And Moses asks the question, "What great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is for us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?" (v.7). For the Church today too. how wonderful is the emptiness of the world around us!

The statutes and judgment God had given Israel also were far superior in truth and righteousness to those of any other nation (v.8). This was true of the law as God gave it. How much more superior are the provisions of God's grace to the Church today -- grace that brings out a response of godly devotion and faithful action on the part of believers (Titus 2:11-12).

Just as Timothy was told, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:16), so Israel is told, "Take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen" (v.9). We may too easily forget things that have at one time greatly impressed us, so that we need constant reminders. As they were told to teach these things that have at one time greatly impressed us, so that their children and grandchildren, so we need the same admonition. It is too often the case that the passing of only one or two generations the truth has been so let slip that there appears hardly a shadow of it left. This happened in Israel too.

Moses reminds Israel of the day of the giving of the law in Horeb (v.10), when He had sought to impress them with the law's impotence, so that by this Israel would learn to fear God in practical life and they would teach their children. None of those to whom he spoke now had been over 20 years of age at that time, so that most of them had not witnessed the sight at Mount Horeb, though they would have been told about it. Still, Moses says, "You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud and thick darkness" (v.11). Whether it was the same people or not, it was the same nation.

The Lord spoke out of the midst of the fire. Israel saw no form, but they heard His voice (v.12). God declared His covenant and accompanied it by writing the ten commandments on two tables of stone (v.13). At the same time He commanded Moses to teach Israel His statutes and judgments, not only for the wilderness journey, but in view of their crossing into the land of Canaan (v.14). The passing of forty years in the wilderness made no difference as to Israel's responsibility to keep the law, and keep it consistently in the land of Canaan.

WARNING AS TO IDOLATRY AND ITS RESULTS

(vs.15-28)

Again Moses insists that Israel saw no form when the Lord spoke to them at Horeb, for the danger was present that they might corrupt themselves by making a carved image, whether in the form of a male or female or any animal, bird, reptile or fish (vs.16-18). Israel's history had illustrated the need for such a warning, for immediately after the law had been given they made the golden calf, breaking the first law they had promised to keep (Exodus 32:1-4).

Also, if they lifted their eyes up to heaven, beyond the level of earthly creatures, let them be sure to look above the sun, moon and stars (v.9), to the One who had created all these things, rather than to worship these visible works of God's hands. Faith believers in the One "whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16). Though God has created these wonderful heavenly bodies, they are there only to direct our attention to their unseen Maker. Yet Israel later turned again to worship idols of every sort (Ezekiel 8:9-12), as well as the sun (Ezekiel 8:16). Then Isaiah 47:13 speaks of the multitude of Israel's counsels by "the astrologers, the stargazers and the monthly prognosticators." Thus there were star worshipers and moon worshipers (true of monthly prognosticators). These same evils are prevalent in the knowledge of the Word of God.

Again Moses reminds them that the Lord had brought them "out of the iron furnace" of Egypt's bondage and persecution, that they should be His people, a special inheritance for Him (v.20). Yet God was teaching Israel that He was indeed a God of true holiness when He denied Moses permission to enter the land of Canaan with them, telling him he would die in the land east of Jordan, while Israel would cross over to inherit the land of Canaan (vs.21-22).

Earnestly Moses repeats his warning to Israel not to forget the covenant the Lord had made with them (v.23), and degrade themselves by making any carved image, whatever form it might take. "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God" (v.24). Fire is the most evident single element in the universe. Every star, our own sun included, is a ball of intense hot fire. The earth is stored with fire, covered by a crust only 30 miles thick, broken through periodically by volanic action, often with startling suddenness, spreading grim death and desolation in their wake. Our very atmosphere, scientists tell us, if changed a little in the measure of its components, would provide fuel for an earth-encircling holocaust. So fire is a striking witness to the awesome holiness of God in judgment. Let Israel, and all people, beware of insulting a God of such burning power and majesty!

Yet the fire of the sun is wonderful in the warmth it provides for mankind. This tells us also that God is a God of love, and all who submit to His authority will find the warmth of His love a marvelous blessing, a pleasant fire rather than a consuming fire. Jealousy in God's case is perfectly right, just as it is right for a man or woman to be jealous of the affections of his or her spouse. The measure of God's love to Israel in the same measure of His hatred against all that causes people harm to Israel. Since God loves people. He must hate sin which causes people harm and damage. If people take sides with their sin against God, then they must suffer the same judgment that their sin incurs.

The same government of God was to continue through Israel's history. When children and grandchildren replaced the present generation, the same danger would be there of corrupting themselves with idolatry to provoke God to anger (v.25). If they did this, then both heaven and earth would bear witness against them to cause them to "utterly perish from the land" (v.26). We know that this was not only a warning, but a prophecy of what actually happen. For they would then be scattered among the people of other countries and left few in number (v.27). There they would serve idols, the work of men's hands, "which neither see nor hear nor eat or smell" (v.28). God who has done this is certainly not mere image with no life in it!

GOD'S RESTORING MERCY

(vs.29-40)

Yet God would not give Israel up indefinitely to the folly of idolatry. Moses tells them that in the area where they have been scattered they will eventually again seek the Lord God and will find Him in seeking with all their heart and soul. We know they will not do this of their own volition, but God will work in their hearts to drive them back to Him, as is illustrated in Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). It will be the Lord Himself speaking who causes these bones of the whole house of Israel to come together and have flesh put on them, a figure of God's raising Israel from their state of helpless, inanimate ruin.

God will make Israel feel the distance of their condition "in the latter days," to cause them to turn to the Lord and obey His voice in contrast to their former rebellion (v.30). "For the Lord your God is a merciful God" (v.31). Though He will allow Israel to suffer the painful results of their disobedience, He will not forsake nor destroy them. In spite of their breaking of the covenant of law, God will not forget or break His covenant established with their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob long before the covenant of law was introduced.

When Moses appealed to Israel to consider that in all their past history God had proven Himself wonderfully gracious and faithful. They were urged to inquire if, from the beginning of the history of mankind, there had been any great thing like the way God had dealt with Israel (v.32). What nation had ever heard God Himself speaking out of the midst of a fire such as at Horeb (v.33)? Or, did God ever take any other nation out of the midst of a nation by means of trials, signs and wonders, by a hand of mighty power, inflicting great terror on the oppressing nation (v.34)? This was an amazing thing that ought to have bowed people's hearts in adoration of One so great, so powerful, so faithful and gracious. There was every evidence to prove to them that the Lord Himself is God, the only true God (v.35).

God had spoken out of heaven, showing His great glory in the consuming fire, from the midst of which He spoke (v.36). Because He loved their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, therefore He blessed not only them but their descendants also, and brought them out of Egypt (v.37). Believers also today should be constantly reminded that God has delivered us from the miserable bondage of our sins, so that we should never be inclined to return to such bondage.

Besides this the Lord was driving out from before Israel nations greater and mightier than they in order to give Israel their proper inheritance (v.38). This pictures the defeat of satanic forces by the power of God, that believers might enjoy their inheritance "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."

Since God has so worked by His grace and power on behalf of Israel, every evidence was before Israel's eyes that "the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. There is no other" (v.39). This being so, it was only right that Israel should keep God's statutes and commandment's (v.40). Such obedience was the means by which things would go well with them and with their children, to give them longer days in the land. He does not say that this would keep them interminably in their land, for he knew that eventually they would disobey and be scattered out of their land.

THREE CITIES OF REFUGE

(vs.41-43)

As Moses had before been instructed (Numbers 35:9-15), he now begins the work of setting apart certain cities of refuge. The three cities to the west of the Jordan would have to wait (Joshua 20:1-9) till that land was conquered, but the three east of the Jordan were appointed by Moses -- Bezer, Ramoth and Golan. Bezer means fortification. a place enclosed and safe from outside attack. This speaks of Christ, the only true safety for one who had before been linked with those who crucified Him, but has no attitude of hatred toward Him. Such an one is welcome if he flees to the Lord Jesus, but if he hated him he would not flee to Him. Ramoth means height, speaking of the place of exaltation to which every believer is brought through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, raised up and seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). What a contrast to the place of lowest shame and humiliation that was ours because being guilty of the death of Christ! God provides such a refuge for all who have judged themselves in view if the cross of Christ.

Golan means Joy or exultation, for when the Lord receives one into the refuge if His presence, then we find more than protection, more than a high position, but "joy inexpressible and full of glory " (1 Peter 1:8). It would be a joy for a manslayer to reach the protection of the city, but for a believer today our joy is not only in our safety, but we "rejoice in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:3) who is personally the refuge of our souls. This is an exulting joy that lifts us high above the level of our circumstances.

A REVIEW OF THE LAW

(vs.44-49)

Verse 44 begins a second major division of Deuteronomy, in which the law is reviewed and expanded. Moses speaks from the viewpoint of Israel's having already conquered the land of Sihon and that of Og king of Bashan, which included a large amount of territory. The fact of Israel's conquest of this eastern land by the power of God is intended to add emphasis to the responsibility of Israel to closely observe God's commandments. He had already greatly blessed them, therefore He was certainly entitled to their respect and obedience. These verses introduced the subject began in chapter 5.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/deuteronomy-4.html. 1897-1910.

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